A state assemblyman last week rekindled the debate over when, how and even if the Port Authority should alter or expand Kennedy Airport to deal with a projected increase in the city’s air traffic over the next 20 years.
Of four options released in January 2011 by the Regional Plan Association and considered viable, three would require filling in a large section of Jamaica Bay, obtaining land outside the airport or both to accommodate new or extended runways.
The fourth would reconfigure runways on the existing airport footprint but would require redirecting traffic over sections of Queens.
Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Beach), in a statement last week and in an interview with the Chronicle, said he is not in favor of any of the options on the table, particularly filling in any portion of Jamaica Bay.
He also said he is opposed to expanding outward into Queens, and to capping JFK’s capacity.
“I don’t agree with this idea that we need to destroy a crown jewel of the community to accommodate airplanes,” Goldfeder said.“I understand the need for the Port Authority to deal with an increase in traffic and to increase capacity. I get that. But it’s not just about destroying Jamaica Bay ... Someone is going to be adversely affected. I don’t want Queens residents to bear the brunt. I want to start a conversation and to put it out in the community.”
Richard Barone of the RPA said the 160-page report was designed to do just that.
“This study was designed to get that conversation started,” Barone said. “This is just the first pass. The Port Authority is conducting a more in-depth study. So much more has to happen before any concept gets turned into action.”
Barone said they undertook the study based on ever-increasing delays at Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty International airports that became twice the national average in 2007. He said delays continue to this day even with a cap imposed by the Federal Aviation Administration.
The study said the region’s economy in the next 20 years will rely heavily on dealing with delays and airport capacity issues in the long term.
Among the other options are improving highway and mass transit service to the airports, and expanding Newark Liberty Airport. LaGuardia Airport is considered a poor choice for expansion given its surrounding development.
The report also points out, in a footnote on page 120, that as Jamaica Bay is considered a national park and wildlife refuge, a federal law governing airport expansion specifically forbids JFK expansion into its waters and marshes.
“[N]othing in this section shall authorize the expansion of airport runways into Jamaica Bay or air facilities at Floyd Bennet Field,” it states.
“That would take an act of Congress to change,” Barone said. “This has years ahead, with an intensive environmental review process, the FAA and public input batting around different ideas.”
Don Riepe of Broad Channel, who serves as Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge guardian amd is northeast chapter director of the Littoral Society, said the airport already has done so much damage to the bay over decades, and that the federal government continues to spend tens of millions of dollars to replenish it.
“We’re not happy with any proposal to fill any part of the bay,” Riepe said. “The area is not pristine — no area in the bay is pristine – we are in restoration mode.”
He said more than 330 species of birds have been recorded in the region, whether as permanent or seasonal residents, or just passing through on their migratory routes.
He also said there are at least 88 species of fish there and could be more than 100.
State Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) believes the federal law is the best protection Queens residents have right now.
Addabbo is as opposed as Goldfeder to expanding JFK either into the water or into Queens through eminent domain.
“If you fill in a section of the bay, you get flooding problems in an area that already has them,” Addabbo said. “And I think the idea of moving planes closer to a bird preserve is a bad combination. Fill in 400 acres and you have all kinds of issues.”
The senator is not afraid to continue with the FAA cap on traffic.
“At some point, you’re going to maximize your capacity,” he said. “In my opinion we are getting very close to that if we’re not there already.”
Barone pointed out that the study includes expansion of Newark Liberty.
“But eventually they run out of capacity too,” Barone said reiterating the importance of the airports to jobs and the economy of the New York City region.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the airports, is undertaking its own study of capacity issues. Its board members are appointed by the states’ governors. In a statement issued last week a spokesman said they will take the RPA study into account.
“The Port Authority will review this proposal and will be sure to take [Goldfeder’s] concerns into consideration as it conducts an aviation capacity study to seek ways to meet the region’s growing long-term passenger needs at our airports,” the PA said in a statement
“The bi-state agency understands JFK’s proximity to Jamaica Bay andthe wildlife it supports, and we recognize the importance of continuing to serve as a good environmental steward,” the spokesman said.